Why stress impairs memory and how to deal with it


Stress has become an integral part of the life of a modern person. In the flow of everyday bustle, devoting a huge amount of time to work, raising children, solving family problems, we, as a rule, very rarely find time to truly rest and relax. Meanwhile, scientists have proven that stress destroys the human brain. Studies have shown that people exposed to stressful situations develop a constant feeling of anxiety and fear, and memory deteriorates. How to understand how stress affects the brain?

Stress and the brain

The human brain and stress

Concepts such as the brain and stress are closely related, because it is our head that gives rise to this dangerous and anxious feeling. Hormones that cause stress in the body are formed and produced in three areas of the brain at once:

  • amygdala;
  • hippocampus;
  • prefrontal cortex.

We are exposed to stress every day for various reasons. It gradually accumulates and becomes chronic, negatively affecting not only the functioning of our brain, but also the general condition of the body.

Scientists have proven that stress has a detrimental effect using the example of monkeys. Baby chimpanzees were taken for the experiment. One part of the children was raised by relatives, and the second by parents. After which the monkeys were swapped, and then returned to their places again. The results were amazing: the brains of chimpanzees, who were first left with their mother and then placed in an environment alien to them, remained in a state of stress for a long time. And this despite the fact that, by the time the results were calculated, they had long returned to their usual habitat.

The effect of stress on the brain

How to restore the adult brain after chronic stress?

The brain is one of the most adaptable and resilient parts of the body. It has a unique ability to recover! If you minimize or get rid of the factors that cause stressful situations, then neural stem cells will again begin to develop normally, and all broken connections will be restored.

To help your brain and get rid of chronic stress, you need to:

exercise more often . During exercise, the brain receives the amount of oxygen necessary for normal functioning. If you don’t have time to visit the gym, don’t be lazy and walk for at least 30–40 minutes every day. Thanks to this pastime, your mood will improve, your well-being will normalize, and your brain will be saturated with oxygen;

✔ find time for meditation and solitude . Meditation is a great way to combat stress and depression! Experts say that the level of anxiety in a person who meditates for 35–45 minutes for three days noticeably decreases. Try it and see for yourself!

✔ get a good night's sleep. Your brain is much more active during sleep than when you are awake. While a person is in the kingdom of Morpheus, his brain sorts out all the events, emotions, experiences, gets rid of unnecessary information and prepares for a new day. If you don't sleep well, your brain won't be able to function properly. To get rid of sleep problems, you should carefully monitor your sleep schedule, do not drink alcoholic beverages or smoke before bed, do not eat heavy, fatty, spicy foods at night, ventilate the room and take leisurely evening walks.

When you start to feel stress creeping closer to you, remember the words of one wise man: “If I can solve this problem, why should I worry? If I can’t solve this problem, why should I worry?” Appreciate and love yourself, because healthy selfishness has never harmed anyone!

How stress affects the brain

It has been proven that stress causes changes in the brain that can radically change a person’s habits, character and lifestyle. Finding ourselves in such a state, our body produces several very important hormones at once - adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. On the one hand, these substances are necessary for a person to continue to function in uncomfortable and unusual conditions. On the other hand, an excess of these hormones has a bad effect on the body. Let's take a closer look at how stress affects the human brain.

Reaction to stress

Frontal lobes

This part of the brain is responsible for emotions, decision making, and short-term memory. As a result of stress and an increase in cortisol in the body, a person cannot cope with himself, it is difficult for him to concentrate and take responsibility for making any decisions. Often, having succumbed to panic, after resolving a stressful situation, he cannot remember what he did or said.

Children from dysfunctional families, under the influence of parents' anger and malice, daily family scandals and humiliation, are in constant stress.

As a result, there is a deformation of the frontal lobe of the brain, leading to poor learning, inattention and absent-mindedness, loss of control over one’s emotions and behavior. A similar thing can happen in a seemingly prosperous family, in which the parents put a lot of pressure on the child with authority, demanding from him complete submission and recognition of his opinion.

Adults who are extremely excitable, prone to frequent panic attacks and anxiety, and who cannot make independent decisions, most likely were brought up in such families.


Other parts of the brain are also affected, in particular the hippocampus, which produces neurons necessary for the formation of long-term memory. If this part of the brain is damaged, the person experiences amnesia and memory problems. He cannot remember even the basic things he deals with every day. For example, people under stress often cannot remember what they ate that day, but they remember perfectly well what they studied in mathematics in the tenth grade of school.

Children whose hippocampus is damaged due to stress do poorly in school because they are unable to remember new material.


This part of the brain is directly connected to our emotional memory. Everything that we rejoice in, that we love, that we worry about is stored right here. Prolonged stress not only negatively affects the functioning of this area, but also leads to its drying out. In this case, the person is easily irritated, he is subject to constant attacks of uncertainty and panic, and is in prolonged depression. People whose amygdala shrinks to incredibly small sizes due to chronic stress and active cortisol production become sociopaths. They do not make contact, show aggression in communication, and do not know how to sympathize and empathize with other people.

Amygdala in the brain

Due to stress, the body practically does not produce serotonin, the hormone of happiness.

As a result, a person tries to find a source of joy in at least something: in food, emotional and gaming addictions. A situation often arises when, coming home after school, a child seeks the attention of adults, but they are busy with their own affairs and do not find time for him. The level of serotonin decreases, and the baby begins to feel unhappy, he has problems with behavior and school performance.

As we see, stress and the brain are so closely interconnected that they have a direct impact on all areas of human life. How we cope with stressful situations determines how happy, active, cheerful and successful we will be in life, as well as how our relationships with other people will be built.

Long-term stress erases memory

Prolonged psychological stress, acting through the immune system, affects the state of memory centers in the brain.

Researchers from Ohio State University report in their article in The Journal of Neuroscience

that long-term stress has a bad effect on short-term memory. In other words, we will still remember what we remember, for example, from childhood, but something we just read, or some urgent task may well fly out of our heads - if we are under prolonged psychological stress. However, to say “we” here means to overtake events somewhat: so far, experiments here have only been carried out on mice.

Hippocampus and other subcortical structures of the human brain; the hippocampus is colored purple. (Photo by Fernando Da Cunha/BSIP/Corbis)

Hippocampal neurons. (Photo -17- / Flickr.com.)

First Jonathan P. Godbout

) and his colleagues taught mice to find a way out of the maze, and after the animals remembered where to go, a larger and more aggressive “guest” was introduced to them several times in a row. Soon the mice showed characteristic signs of psychological stress: they became anxious, avoided social contacts altogether, etc. But, most importantly, they forgot the way out of the maze. Those who were not under stress remembered the right path, as before. The memory problems continued for several more weeks after the mice stopped being frightened by the arrogant and strong neighbor.

At the same time, signs of inflammation appeared in the brains of stressed animals - in particular, the number of immune cells of macrophages increased. Particular attention was paid here to the hippocampus, an area of ​​the brain that serves as one of the main centers of memory and at the same time is involved in emotional reactions. (Naturally, the connection between psychological stress and memory was primarily sought in it.)

For some time after stress, fewer new neurons appeared in the hippocampus than usual. If the mice were given an anti-inflammatory drug, the memory problems disappeared and the number of macrophages in the hippocampus decreased, although depressive behavior and problems with new nerve cells persisted.

The general conclusion is this: stress through the immune system increases the inflammatory background in the brain, which, in turn, weakens short-term memory - at least that part of it that concerns spatial orientation. The connection between stress and inflammation is now being actively studied by all possible methods, since the inflammatory reaction, even if not very strong and sluggish, can cause a lot of trouble, increasing the likelihood of a variety of diseases, including diabetes and cancer.

However, it should be noted that regarding stress and memory, everything is still far from clear. So, in 2013 in PLoS ONE

an article was published that said that the effect of stress here depends on its amount: first, long-term memory deteriorates, then, if stress increases, short-term memory too - that is, stress erases any memory, not just short-term. True, those experiments were carried out generally on snails, but the authors of the study argued that their conclusions were valid for all animals with more or less complex memory.

On the other hand, in the same 2013, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley published the results of experiments with rats in which the animals were subjected to acute short-term stress - and it turned out that this did not depress, but, on the contrary, stimulated the appearance of new neurons in the hippocampus. Most likely, it’s all about the variety of stressful conditions, which can differ in strength, duration and type, and the body’s response to stress will be somewhat different each time.

Stress destroys the body

Hormones that are produced in the body during stress spread throughout the body, adversely affecting our brain, as well as the functioning of various internal organs. What becomes a consequence of the active activity of the endocrine glands?

  1. Digestion turns off. When faced with a stressful situation, the human body begins to save energy. Problems with the digestive system immediately arise. Nausea, lack of appetite, lethargy – these are the main consequences of stress on the body.
  2. Thinking stops. An increased pulse and rapid heartbeat, which appear in any stressful situation, instantly send a signal to the part of the brain that is responsible for our thinking, as a result of which it almost completely stops its activity and the person becomes unable to think sensibly and make any decisions.
  3. The body gets sick. According to medical statistics, 90% of diseases occur as a result of damage and diseases associated with brain damage caused by stressful situations. A person’s immunity weakens, problems with blood pressure arise, interruptions in the functioning of the nervous and cardiovascular systems occur, and various skin diseases develop. The body is constantly exposed to various infections and viruses from the outside. The human brain suffers the most from stress, which leads to memory impairment, headaches, increased intracranial pressure, and the development of many other diseases.

The effect of stress on the body

What happens to the body during stress?

During a stressful event, the stress hormone norepinephrine suppresses the molecular pathway that normally ends in the synthesis of the GluA1 protein. Without functional receptors, GluA1 and astrocytes lose the ability to communicate with each other. That is, the severity of stress triggers the synthesis of the GluA1 protein, thereby changing the brain as it stops the production of essential proteins. Thus, stress deeply damages both the brain and the body because, at the cellular level, it pulls astrocyte branches out of synapses.

You might be interested in: Is it true that a person can turn gray from stress?

Let me remind you that stressful situations activate the sympathetic nervous system. This is what triggers the famous “fight or flight” response. Rising levels of adrenaline in the blood, higher blood pressure and higher heart rates helped our ancestors survive thousands of years ago, when the ability to quickly recognize and overcome a threat meant the difference between life and death. Of course, today we face far fewer impending risks to our lives, but our sympathetic nervous system is still firing on all cylinders. How does your body react to stress and what do you do to reduce anxiety and stress? We'll wait for the answer here!

How to cope with stress?

Advice from professionals will help you cope with stress and prevent deterioration in your health.

Stay Organized

It's very easy to give in to panic and fear when you don't know what to expect from your workday. Try to make a daily plan of action for the new day. This will not only help you focus on the tasks at hand, but will also give you the opportunity to make the most of every working minute. An excellent assistant would be a work organizer or desk calendar in which you can record all your actions, plans, calls and meetings.

Choose priority things

Don't grab everything at once. Matters that require your direct presence must be resolved independently. The rest of the instructions can be easily forwarded to your subordinates and colleagues. As soon as you feel tired and starting to succumb to stress, be sure to take a break for at least a few minutes. Don't forget to make several of these stops throughout the day and be sure to have a good lunch.


Solve one global problem at a time. You shouldn’t spread yourself thin, grabbing everything at once. There will be no sense from this, and the body will quickly become exhausted. Solving at least one problem will immediately have a positive impact on your well-being. You will become more confident in your own abilities, feel an influx of inspiration and good mood. Don’t forget about a compromise, which will be an excellent way out of a stressful situation.

How to restore a child's brain after stress?

To help a child relieve chronic stress and restore their brain, parents need to create emotional stability at home. Constant quarrels, scandals, and clarification of relations between parents have a very negative impact on the child’s psyche. Do you want your child to study well and enter a prestigious university in the future? Do not yell at your child or other household members, show love to your spouse as often as possible, create a cozy and comfortable atmosphere at home.

But you should not put children in a cocoon and try to protect them from all everyday troubles, otherwise your child in the future will turn into an infantile and dependent person.

To successfully deal with stress, a child needs to engage in physical activity. Scientists unanimously agree that physical exercise has a positive effect on the development of the hippocampus. Football, volleyball, basketball, and other team sports promote neuronal growth.

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